04 February 2009

I Do? Yes, I Do

The front page of local dishrag Primera Hora this week states that "67 of every 100 marriages separate." Along with this headline are two more: "60% of mothers have children without being married" and "There is a deficit of men to violent deaths." As a capper, the front page cartoon is of a bride and groom; the groom's thought is "I thought this (marriage) was for life" and her thought is the local version of "Yeah, right."

Plenty to snipe at, fer sure. First point: Primera Hora is a dishrag, a raggedy, semi-slimy dishraggy excuse for a newspaper. (Yes, I said "dishraggy.") That We put up with it is tantamount to living with a bong-smoking swimmer... who doesn't win 8 gold medals.

Second point: If it's true that 67% of marriages end in separation, what is that saying about what's left of Our society? "What's left" because the nuclear family is the basic component of a society and when 2/3 of those components are broken, what kind of social fabric do you have...left

It frosts My perineum to have religious leaders shrieking like howler monkeys against gay marriage, but keeping mum about the free-fall disruption marriage--"regular" marriage--has become. Better to fight against 500-700 marriages a year than to focus on the 70,000-82,000 marriages that go under like bowling balls in ponds.

Third point: That 60% of mothers are unwed when they have their children is a moral/economic seachange. Moral because it is no longer considered an awful humiliation to have a bastard (see how the word shocks you more than the act?) and economic because women are no longer the subservient vassals to men's incomes. 

Couple that in a certain way with the fourth point, that there is a shortage of men, although according to the dishrag it's due to violent deaths. Pifflegab. And poo. Even with a high incidence of murders, and with accidents and illness, the ratio of men to women in Puerto Rico is still 52%-48%, pretty much what it is in other similar societies. It's not a numbers game, at least not those numbers: It's a game of standards. And men simply aren't measuring up.

More women than men are enrolled in universities, graduate and go on to post-graduate degrees and more women than men are launching new businesses. What this means is that more and more, women are both better prepared and better focused than men to make their lives grow in positive ways. When women have better prospects and the money to engage in building their lives on their own, they don't have to settle for any guy...neither before or after getting married.

Does this mean women are to blame for the declining rate of successful marriages? That's like blaming an improved player for his team's declining performance. It isn't women's fault: it's men's. Now it's true that it takes (for now) a man and woman to make a marriage, and also to end one. But by and large the expanding role and scope of women's roles and prospects is a fundamental change that Our society has failed to properly accept and expand to ensure that men also follow suit. We continue to place a huge burden of responsibility on women to be professionals, mothers and spouses while demanding of men only that they be money-makers.

Why else would so many men opt to skip college to "go into business," all-too-often on the fringes of legality or even beyond it? Why else do We allow men to spurt their sperm and then merely write checks (if even that) to pay for the result, barely tending to a child's needs? What responsibility do We as a society expect from men beyond that of being cash machines? Treat any person like a thing and you cannot ever be surprised when that "thing" fails to deliver optimum results.

Now I know--yes, I do--(pun not intended) that there are plenty of men who take their roles as fathers and spouses seriously, with utmost sincerity and high integrity. I'm privileged to know a few. But by any measure, they are too few. They are the exceptions that prove the rule that society has been simply offering men a worthless blank check and they are paying society back in kind.

And yet, the cartoon captures a poignant truth about modern marriage: Men pretty much still do believe it can be forever, but women--despite novelas--don't. Men too often see marriage as an endpoint, while women tend to see it more realistically as the beginning of a new process that will go on until it cannot be borne. And that point is increasingly reached very much before "death do Us part."

We, as a society, liberated women and told them You can now go out there and be all you want to be, but you have to be everything you were before, too. At the same time, We told men Move over because the world is changing, but you can do what you did before: just do it for more money. The messages are simple and subtle, but given 40 years for them to sink in, the simple subtlety has created a clearly complex divide.

Can We fix it? Not according to religious leaders, who basically imitate Pontius Pilate rather than Pilate's most-famous defendant. Not according to political "leaders," who don't give a rat's patootie about anything in society except money and power. And not according to the educational system that continues to force boys to be "more like girls," thus launching them on a path to eventually show just how much they aren't like them. 

And yet, it can be fixed. Start by making men and women be truly responsible for the children they bring into the world. Make workfare a reality so that welfare becomes what it should be: a temporary support system. Make a high school degree mandatory for receiving welfare or workfare, whether with degree in hand or making progress towards it. Slash or eliminate their welfare benefits if they fail to make progress in education or work, or have more children without improving their station. 

The odds of a person (man or woman) ending up in poverty when s/he has a child before finishing high school and is under the age of 20 are 70 times higher than for persons in other situations. Seventy. Times. Higher. Unless We break that cycle, We can't build a widespread platform of successful nuclear families.

And Let's start focusing Our society's message to men so that it says We expect you to be professionals... and fathers and spouses and true partners to the women you cherish and nurture. Let's ask more of men, to tap the atavistic want/need of men to be protectors of women, for Let's face it, even when women can stand on their own two feet (maybe especially when they do) it's still a good feeling for both of them when he comes in and sweeps her off her feet, away from trouble and into the fading sunset.

At least that's something novelas still have right...

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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